Friday, January 1, 2010


In the aftermath of two successive defeats faced by the BJP, there is much talk that India has changed and that Hindutva and Ram temple are no longer issues that excite Hindus. That is certainly true. But is it just the quest for a better life that now consumes Indians? Is everything that energised them in the nineties really not relevant any longer?

If we base our analysis on the faulty understanding that the Ram temple movement was no more than a communal, anti-Muslim upsurge, then everything else that follows not only prevents us from understanding the phenomenon in all its dimensions but also leads us to a wrong path for the future. Yes it did lead to the tragic and unacceptable demolition of the Babri Masjid. But, for most Hindus, was the movement really against mosques or Muslims? Absolutely not.

At one level, it was for reclamation of what many believe is the birthplace of Ram; in some form or the other, the agitation had been on for a very, very long time, much before the BJP and the Sangh parivar were even conceived. At another and more fundamental level, however, it was about values of governance.

Ram was the God whose name was always on the lips of Mahatma Gandhi. But no one can call him communal. Because for Gandhi, Ram represented a set of values to live by. That is what Ram has always meant to most Hindus too. That is one reason why, when Rajiv Gandhi gave Doordarshan the go ahead to telecast TV serial Ramayan in 1987, what followed was unprecedented and remains unsurpassed. The TV serial became so popular that the entire country used to come to a virtual halt on Sunday mornings as everyone who could gain access to a TV set stopped doing what they were to watch the story of Ram, even though they already knew much of it.

Arun Govil brought Ram in flesh and blood into the homes and hearts of Hindus across India like never before in India's history. It is due to this phenomenon, and not Advani's Rath Yatra or the Sangh Parivar's efforts, that the movement to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya gained the tremendous momentum that it did. The BJP benefitted only because it was seen to be in the vanguard of this energy. Rajiv Gandhi perhaps understood what was happening. I am convinced that had he remained alive and PM, he would have amicably resolved the issue with Muslim leaders and got a Ram temple built at the spot in question, without allowing the BJP to draw political mileage.

In the event, it was the BJP that reaped the benefit of the resurgence of Ram in Hindu homes and hearts. But where its leaders made a fundamental error was in believing that they could exploit the sentiments of people in name of Ram solely to get and keep political power. They clean forgot that Ram was really about values and ethics of governance. They did not remember that Mahatma Gandhi had worshipped Ram in word and deed.

In giving the BJP their votes, a vast majority of ordinary Hindus were not giving vent to anti-Muslim communal feelings. They were expressing a strong desire to see a fundamental change in the manner in which the country was being run; they were looking for a set of leaders who would bring into public life an honesty, transparency and compassion that they had not seen in decades under the rule of a corrupt, feudal and dynastic Congress party.

Had the BJP consciously built on that positive desire for change, it would have obliterated the then discredited Congress by now. In Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it even had the perfect leader behind whom that positive upsurge could have been built and strengthened. Unfortunately, soon after it tasted power, the party started morphing into another Congress.

When party President Bangaru Laxman was seen receiving Rs 1 lakh as a bribe on TV, the sacred bond of trust and expectation that people had reposed in the BJP was irreparably broken. It was as if Ram Himself had been sullied by the party. In one stroke, the difference between the BJP and the Congress was erased. Congress leaders had always been known to be dishonest; almost every Indian believed that Rajiv Gandhi had taken money from Bofors. But the Congress had never spoken of Ram or His values after Mahatma Gandhi's death; nor had it ever asked for votes to establish Ram Rajya.

It was the BJP that had generated the expectation that with its coming, Ram Rajya would become a reality. The onus, therefore, was on it to live up to its call and deliver. Failure to do so was always going to be viewed as a serious breach of faith. It failed and paid the price.

But has it learnt the right lesson, despite being rejected roundly? When it talks of return to ideology, does it really know what that means? Has it realised that people can be excited, incited, hypnotized, but only temporarily, to forget the reality of their daily lives by the force of religion? Has there been an awakening that the hypnosis has worn off and that many of its leaders, shorn of the glow of Vajpayee, have been seen for the petty, dishonest and greedy men they are? Does it still believe that their call to Ram or dharma is ever going to find the ears they seek?

Perhaps, there is still a belief that the practical and dirty craft of politics can somehow be married with Ram san His values. Perhaps the logic is that if the Congress can con, so can the BJP.

There is no other explanation for the series of disastrous moves that the BJP has made in the recent past. Picking of criminals and other undesirable candidates to fight elections, public courting of thoroughly corrupt individuals by its President Rajnath Singh, promotion of dynasties etc are all pointers to the reality that the BJP's cadre of committed workers and leaders has been overtaken by ambitious and amoral individuals who are in the game only for power and pelf.

Look at what it has done in Jharakhand. It dropped the clean Babulal Marandi before the elections and lost badly. But greed has so overtaken commonsense that is has snatched from the arms of the Congress and embraced Shibu Soren, convicted of murder last year and with several other serious charges pending, and made him Chief Minister. The argument is that he has been acquitted. Are Indians idiots? Don't we all know how the legal system works? What should be more important for a party whose mantra is Ram? Perception of the people or skill of lawyers who are known to boast, with results to show, that they can get murderers proved innocent?

The BJP is now indistinguishable from the Congress from which it used to claim it was different. It is no longer possible to determine where one ends and the other begins. But one huge difference remains. It is the BJP, and not the Congress, that chants the name of Ram. That is why if it is seen to be following in the footsteps of Ravan, it is going to be punished.

There is a Hindi proverb "Bagal mein chhuri, munh mein Ram Ram" - a dagger in the waist and Ram on the lips - to describe a dishonest, dangerous and untrustworthy person who fools others by pretending that he believes in the exalted values of Ram. The BJP is now that person. It thinks it can keep Soren and others like him with itself and yet fool people into voting for it in the name of Ram, ideology, Hindutva, whatever. This is nothing but a recipe for disaster. The sooner the party realises it and sheds those who are guiding it into this treacherous channel, the better. For the party and for India.
Related Reading:
1. The RSS surgery: Will it help revive BJP?
2. Is the BJP's warship headed for Alang?